Why Do We Lie? The Good and the Bad about Lying
When we were young, our parents usually taught us not to lie. Yet, we learned early not only the benefits but also the necessity of lying. Lying can be a good thing. The “white lies” we tell to others serves as the social glue that allows us to sustain and enrich our relationships. For example, when maiden Aunt Agnes asks how you like the fruitcake she gives you every year at the holidays, you don’t tell her it is too sweet and gooey. Instead, you “lie” and tell her how much you like it. This “fib” is good lying. You don’t need to be truthful because she is not really asking for the truth. She is asking for confirmation that she is valued and important, so when you say something positive such as “It’s great how you always put your heart into things at the holidays, Aunt Agnes,” you will not be lying.
In addition to good lies to others, we also rely on good lies to ourselves. These good self-lies are the engines that allow us to get up in the morning and go on with our lives. We “lie” to ourselves that the world can be a dangerous and unfair place, that fate is fickle and that life can change in an instant. If we didn’t filter out these possible truths, we might pull the covers over our heads. Like in the movie “Groundhog Day,” we start each day with a touch of Bill Murray, whose character must start the same day over and over.
A certain amount of these lies of denial are necessary for survival—after all, the caveman had to say to himself, “I’m going out there again because I killed one giant beast for dinner, so I know I can kill another.” But these kinds of lies have a way of leading us to the border of good/bad self-lies. We lie about how unhappy we are in our marriages and relationships, how much we dislike our bosses and jobs, how much we must tolerate our in-laws or even how disappointed we are in our children. We maintain these lies because, on some level, we sense that seeing the truth about our situation might require us to risk making unwise decisions. For example, many long-term happy marriages go through periods of dissatisfaction and emerge stronger. It would have been a mistake to have gotten divorced. On the other hand, this good/bad border might also make us maintain our blinders and prevent us from taking steps to change. For example, a woman might stay in a bad relationship because she fears that if she breaks up, she won’t find another man. Her self-lies have made her buy into the belief that having just about any kind of man is better than not having a man at all.
Yet, soon this frontier of good/bad self-lies can become a bad thing. We lie about how much we or our loved ones abuse alcohol, gamble, get violent, depressed and stressed, eat too much or unhealthily. These lies are bad because they can lead to serious negative consequences such as heart attacks, diabetes and domestic partner violence.
It’s easy to see how easy it is to lie! Let’s look at the most common ways we apply these good and bad lies.
- We lie to our spouses about how much we spend.
- We lie to ourselves and others about how much we eat and what kinds of things we eat such as snacks.
- We lie to ourselves about our weight. We tend to see ourselves as not thin enough or not overweight.
- We lie to our partners about cheating.
- We lie to our friends about opinions about them. For example, we tend not to tell our friends that their new girlfriend or boyfriend is bad for them. We might tell ourselves that it is not our business or that we really don’t know the new person. In fact, because we are so afraid of being judged, we tend to back away from being seen as judgmental. We are also very competitive creatures, so if we sense that someone else might be miserable in love, we might refrain. After all, jealousy of another’s happiness can be most unpleasant. Despite television shows such as “Friends” and “Sex and the City,” true sisterhoods of women are hard to come by. Our early heritage of social competition for resources—including males—can make women refrain from giving another woman an edge. The result is that we might not tell them the truth about their hair or outfit.
- We tend to lie to our families—parents, children and in laws, for example. We might not reveal our unhappiness or problems in love, finances and health. We often don’t know when to talk about these hot topics, so we remain in that good/bad lie border and often do nothing.
- Men often lie about how much time they spend on the Internet on pornography sites.
- We lie about to ourselves about our health. We often put our heads in the sand and don’t get proactive in getting yearly check ups. We also tend to tolerate for too long serious symptoms like nagging coughs or shortness of breath. It often takes a crisis to force us to the doctor—and then sometimes it’s very late in the disease progress. This lie occurs because we fool ourselves into believing that what we don’t know can’t hurt us.
- We lie to ourselves about our finances in general. We often don’t know how to manage money, so we avoid looking too closely at our situations.
- We lie about our tendencies toward addictions and addictive behaviors--drinking, drugging, gambling, shopping, eating and using Internet porn.
What kinds of things do you lie about?
Hope this article gets you thinking.
Thank you. LB
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LeslieBeth Wish is a Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker and author who is nationally recognized for her contributions to women, love, relationships, family, career, workplace, and organizations.